How to Stop Tantrums (Sometimes); Or, When You Say, “Terrible Twos,” Does That Generally Include The Whole Second Year of Life In Its Entirety? And About How Long Does It Last Beyond That, Would You Say?
At 18 months, and as yesterday’s post suggests, Mini has decided to begin his Terrible Twos. I have been assured that, though it seems unfair that he is starting so young, this is pretty common, and hey, I was always an overachiever myself, so I’m a little touched that he wants to pursue the advanced placement track just like his Mommy. Sniff.
We knew that he was starting a new developmental phase because of his sudden obsession with The Whereabouts of Mommy At All Times. And, shortly thereafter, the marked concern with The Tendency of Daddy to Go to Work in the Morning. Mini has heretofore been a fairly relaxed kid, and has not suffered from excessive separation anxiety.
Lately, however, if you could only be a fly on our wall! You know, the kind of fly that can hear and pass judgment, but not actually see, and therefore has to guess as to what is actually going on? If you were that kind of fly on the wall, you would assume that I make a habit of trying to remove Mini’s heart from his chest with my bare hands from the noises he makes when I try to leave a room. The first time I heard this reaction was when we were in the grocery store, and I was going to wait in line while Mini and Mr. Right-Click went over to the deli to pick something up. Bad idea. I heard the blood curdling scream from all the way across the market, and though it would be rather easy to just pretend like it was somebody else’s toddler, I knew this wasn’t going to work. A few seconds later, Mr. Right-Click came back with Mini, who stopped crying the second I held him.
One morning last week, Mini was trying to move around a 12-pack of Diet Coke. Yes, I have 12-packs of Diet Coke just sitting around my house. (Not usually. But last week we were having copper repiping done and so the house was not in its usual babyproofed state, since many of the cupboards had to be emptied and the walls carved into. Incidentally . . . copper repiping is cool. Having holes in your walls, not so much.) So, back to Mini. He’s trying to lift a Diet Coke 12-pack, and I’m like, “Dude, you’re not going to be able to pick that up.” And he’s getting more and more pissed off, because of course he cannot pick it up.
Eventually, I just take the 12-pack of Diet Coke away from him, because the whining is unbearable. So then he really let me have it. Cry, shriek, outrage, outrage, cry, shriek, accusatory-eye, accusatory-eye, tears streaming down face, stompy-foot! STOMPY-FOOT, I SAY! And oh dear lord the NOISE. And I thought, “Hey, this must be one of those tantrum things they are talking about.”
So I whipped out my proverbial tantrum toolbox as provided to me by The Happiest Toddler On the Block. First order of business, bang feet and shake fist, doing my best impression of an irate
elf tyrant toddler, and saying things like, “NO NO NONONONO NONO NO MINI wants to move the Diet Coke 12-pack! YOU want to move it. YOU want to MOOOVE it!” And I was rolling on the ground, pounding my fists, really going for it, and Mini continued to shriek and pound his fists for two minutes. After about two minutes, he started looking at me like, “Dude, are you crazy?” Because of course, I was continuing the “Oh, I get it. I totally get it, buddy,” routine, and though it didn’t make him happy, he was sort of distracted by it eventually. After that I was able to talk him down, and have him sit on my lap and calm down a little bit.
It worked. Whew. But since that one time, I haven’t been able to get it to work again. I have used other diversionary tactics, like distraction or solving the problem for him when it is possible. I also learned to distinguish when he’s throwing the tantrum out of frustration, versus when he just wants me to do something. But man, it’s challenging. Particularly when we were renegotiating the bedtime routine the other night, and I saw on the video monitor that his adreneline fueled rage had allowed him to hoist himself onto the side of the crib, and before I could make it into his room to catch him, I heard a giant crash noise, followed shortly thereafter by the sound of tiny toddler hands fiddling with a doorknob. We are currently shopping for a twin bed for the little monkey child.
Fortunately, Mini is a good sleeper, and after that one night of renegotiating the terms, plus the addition of the nightlight, he seems to have accepted that 7pm is his bedtime. But what do I do about the other times?
If you’re not familiar with the techniques outlined by Harvey Karp for dealing with toddler meltdowns in The Happiest Toddler On the Block, they are (in heavily simplified form):
- “The Fast Food Rule,” where you basically repeat back to the kid what it is that is pissing him off, only in “toddler-ese,” as the person operating a fast food drive-thru window is theoretically supposed to do. Viz., “NO, NO, NO, You want the jar full of screws. No TAKE. NO MOMMY TAKE,” etc. His theory is that picking up the toddler and saying, “It’s OK,” will just piss him off more because WHY DON’T YOU GET IT?! IT IS SOOOO NOT OK!” You are supposed to repeat the message that you are hearing from the kid, and use your body, face, gestures, etc. to convey that you get it.
- Using Toddler-ease to communicate. This consists of short phrases, repetition, correct tone of voice (mirror his feelings), and facial expressions and gestures. This part is hard, because you feel like an idiot, but also Mini just doesn’t buy it from me most of the time. Or, I should perhaps say, I don’t sell it to him, because Mr. Right-Click is pretty good at it.
- Know when these techniques won’t work, so you have to walk away for a while. He goes on to explain various situations in which the techniques of talking the toddler down won’t work, and how to deal with it then, such as giving a hug, solving the problem (if this is possible), or ignoring.
What do you guys think of this technique? Are there any people who have tried it out there? Any other tips on how to deal with frustrated drunken elf tyrants that I’m missing?